Assisted-suicide bills faring poorly so far in 2017

Bills that would legalize assisted suicide have failed to advance in eight of 24 states considering them this year, with pro-life victories in Hawaii and New Mexico drawing media focus.

No state has passed assisted-suicide legislation thus far in 2017 after 2016 saw Colorado and the District of Columbia legalize the practice and California enact a bill passed the previous year.

Assisted-suicide bills "have done very poorly" this year, said Rita Marker, executive director of the Patients Rights Council (PRC), a group that opposes assisted suicide. "That has been a shock to those who are in favor of it because they thought that all of the sudden the dam had burst and everything would happen for them."

Legislation to legalize assisted suicide looks to have suffered final defeat this year in Indiana, Mississippi, New Mexico and Tennessee, Marker told Baptist Press. Bills have failed to advance but could be brought back up in Hawaii, Maryland, Utah and Wyoming, she said.

Legislation is pending in Alaska, Arizona, Connecticut, Iowa, Kansas, Maine, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, Nevada, Jew Jersey, New York, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin, according to the PRC website.

Marker said assisted-suicide proponents introduce legislation annually in states unlikely to pass it because they regard the ensuing debate as an opportunity to win support for their cause.

In Hawaii, a House of Representatives committee decided March 23 by unanimous consent not to advance a proposal that would have allowed doctors to prescribe lethal drugs the same day a patient was diagnosed as terminally ill.

Rep. Della Au Bellati, chair of the House Committee on Health, said assisted suicide has divided the state, according to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Other lawmakers said the legislation under consideration was flawed and couldn't be fixed before this year's legislative session ends in May.

Eva Andrade, president of the Hawaii Family Forum, wrote in a blog post that Hawaii residents should "say a prayer of thanksgiving" while remaining vigilant in their opposition.

"Although this may seem like the battle is over, please be advised that the battle is not over until the last day of session," Andrade wrote. "And even then, the bill is still alive for next session. Even now, proponents are most likely regrouping to see what they can do to keep the bill alive for this session."

New Mexico lawmakers made news March 15 when the state senate voted 22-20 against a bill that would have legalized assisted suicide for those expected to die within six months, The Santa Fe New Mexican reported. Seven Democrats joined 15 Republicans in the vote.

Dauneen Dolce, executive director of the Right to Life Committee of New Mexico, told the American Family Association's One News Now that similar legislation likely will be introduced next year because the vote was so close.

Assisted-suicide opponents must remain "actively involved in some way," Dolce said, by "educating yourself, or giving support to the organizations that are educating others, or [being] involved in the political arena. If you don't do that, you are handing over our state [and] our laws, and the culture of death will come to us—and that'll be from apathy."

Marker echoed the call for continued vigilance, noting the importance of talking with neighbors about the dangers of legalizing physician-assisted suicide. She added that those who oppose assisted suicide must work together across ideological and political party lines.

"Those who are promoting [assisted suicide] want to make it seem as though the only people who oppose this are doing so out of religious opposition or right to life [advocacy]," Marker said.

"That's not true. In fact, some of the most effective [assisted-suicide opponents] are from the disability rights community."

In all, 36 states and the District of Columbia have considered assisted suicide bills since 1994, according to PRC data. Physician-assisted suicide is legal in California, Colorado, Montana, Oregon, Vermont and Washington state.

A LifeWay Research survey last year found 67 percent of Americans believe it is morally acceptable for terminally ill patients to ask their doctors for help in ending their lives.

At least four Southern Baptist Convention resolutions have opposed assisted suicide since 1992. Most recently, a 2015 resolution "on the sanctity of human life" noted the legalization of "physician-assisted suicide in several states" and "affirm[ed] the dignity and sanctity of human life at all stages of development, from conception to natural death."

David Roach is chief national correspondent for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention's news service. 

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